27 December 2006

Surmounting Terror: Fear and Loathing on the Southern Oregon Coast

I had this idea to document a surf trip to Southern Oregon with the theme being ‘The sharkiest surf spots in Oregon at the sharkiest time of year.’ I was going to call it, ‘The Great White Shark Hunt’ as a nod to Hunter S Thompson. Sure, I would have had fun writing about all the in between surf debauchery but that was where the HST inspiration was to end. My idea was to write about searching for waves between Newport OR and the California border with my unoffcial surf team 'The Pikeys,' intersped with shark sighting/attack history of Oregon. After writing out a rough draft, I posted it on a message board and then forgot about it, until recently.

I just read HST’s The Curse of Lono. Lono was recently re-printed in a large format complete with superb Ralph Steadman illustrations. If you are surfer and a fan of HST, you like I, probably jumped at the chance to check this out. However, it was largely a disappointing read. It is certainly a wild read and all the ingredients are there: the 1980s, Hawaii, mythology, Captain Cook, big game fishing, storms, waves, surfing, drinking, drugs, Steadman, more storms, the Hawaiian marathon, outlandish characters but Lono is unfortunately, not HST at his best. However, it reminded me off my own depraved behaviour on my last surf trip that now seems an age away...

'Surmounting Terror' Or 'On and On South Of Stoke'

The whole saga will be properly documented when I am mentally and emotionally far enough removed from the following events but for now consider this a brief run down of The Pikey Assault on the Southern Oregon Coast. Now, before we left, I dubbed it an ‘assault’ in jest, I had no idea that it would become just that. I had no idea that after the 10th of September 2006 no Pikey will ever be welcome south of Coos Bay again.

An end of summer thursday,

Nasty and Smith pick me up only slightly behind schedule. Things start off well. We head to Corvallis, race through Philomath, Toledo and descend into Newport. We poison our bodies with some Taco Hell and then call our man on the Central Coast, Stiffler. Stiffler agreed to meet us at Agate which is a wind blown 3’ at best. Stiffler greeted us like long lost brethren and we begin spot checking the Newport ‘go tos.’ In the end we pick a random peak at Beverley Beach that is actually holding some shape in the howling winds. Not too jazzed about the conditions I asked Stiffler if I could take out his fish, his fist effort at surboard building, to spice things up a little. What can I say? For a debut board it is a super fun ride. At 6’4” x 22" x 3 1/8" it will catch any lump of water that resembles a wave, cruises through the mush at stupid speed and keeps on going when the wave is over. You could camp out and have a family BBQ on it and still get a couple of little turns in.
We did some other spot checks, loaded up on beer, shot the shit and then headed south into Stiffler’s Walden... eerr Waldport. First we went up into the hills to water and feed the Stiffler family’s horses. It was so quiet up there; it started to freak me out. I’ve lived in the city far too long. Nasty brought me back down to earth with some joke about hand jobs. It would not be the last time that my mind was to wonder off with dreams of going feral only to come crushing back down to earth upon hearing about Nasty’s quest to get a convenient 'HJ.'
The Stiffler family treated us far above and beyond what we were worth. Burgers (even a veggie option for woofties like myself) were cooked, beers were sunk and then we headed out to the local skatepark for a twilight session. Smith and I barged the park while the local groms were burning and blowing shit up. No one got hurt. Smith and I then decided ‘to feel out’ the hill that Stiffler lived upon. The hill is steep with two, almost non-negotiable curves. We had to do it in sections, 1) because we were a couple of bottles of Sheaf Stout down 2) because we are woofties. At the final and steepest descent the sheriff drove by very slowly. Smith assured him that there was nothing to worry about, as we are adults. The sheriff seemed satisfied. Smith went first and I followed. The local church group cheered us at the bottom and the local hoods tried to score weed off us. We’d arrived.
Next morning, Stiffler got our arses in gear and began to show us a plethora of central coast, shark infested, rocky surfing spots, that I doubt many (if any) surf apart from him. (Maybe Doc does...) We entered a bizarre hippy town and got killer pastries from a local cult run café. I didn’t get to finish mine as, as we pulled up at the river mouth we saw that this place had amplified the small swell into thumping head high peaks. Mostly close-outs but some rights were reeling of the rocks to the north. All the ingredients are at this spot for sharkiness: river mouth, rocks, lots of wildlife, deep to shallow water and so on. A kindly ranger drove by and asked who was ‘bait’ today and reminded us about the recent attack at the jetty in Florence just south. This was also the spot where Stiffler had an epic adventure last winter where he nearly ended up getting sucked to Alaska. It was a fun session, where everyone cheered each other into heaving close-outs. Then we went back to the hippy café for more food and mind control.
I rode with Stiffler, while the other Pikey’s gave each other a ‘mutual.’ Stiffler and I talked about living off the land, hunting and fishing and surviving the collapse of civilization. Spot #2 was even more picturesque but even spookier. Nasty’s gut was full and I used the excuse of wanting to try out Wend editor, Gills’ 300mm lens to get some pics. Stiffler and Smith negotiated the rocks in a zig zag paddle out and picked off a couple of fun looking waves at this rocky right hander. Seals were on the inside, whales on the outside, the sun was beaming and the water was as blue as it gets in Oregon. There were no signs of the Surmounting Terror that would eventually greet us further south. The waves did not last long and soon Stiffler and Smith were back in and it was time for Nasty and Pete’s redemption session. Several more spot checks but to no avail. Unfortunately, it was soon time to part ways with our guide and central coast host. Right now, he is probably paddling out alone, in the very early morning, at spots you might drive by one day and say to yourself ‘Wow that actually looks surfable’ but make up any number of excuses and carry on your merry way. When the apocalypse comes, and it will, I will be packing up my family and surfboards and heading straight for Chez Stiffler.
We got fuel in Florence but did not check the surf at the jetty and no one admitted that it was due to the recent attack. South and into Reedsport, where Smith and I get our skate on at the funnelled full pipe. The locals schooled us on all the speed lines and told us of their dreams to move to Portland. They asked why the hell we came to Reedsport. We told them we are looking for waves and running from demons. They reply “Killer. Did you hear about the shark attack in Florence last month?" Yes, we did. "That guy kicked the shark's ass!” They cheered.

South to Bastendorff. We had a plan to meet up with a friend of Nasty’s at Sunset Beach campsite. Scott is a psychotic cyclist who was making his way to Brookings from Astoria. God only knows what he was trying to exorcise with that act of lunacy. But whatever demons he might have been trying to battle would surely pale in comparison to the demons Smith was to reveal he was dealing with. Bastendorff did not welcome us and we did not welcome it. After pitching our tents in the only camp site available we went into Charleston to look for Sailing Surfer, a local surfer I had planned to meet up with. We dined at cool little seafood joint, with the burly locals. Smith purchased a pitcher of filth and the night began. Nasty failed, again, to get an HJ from the Spanish beauties behind the counter and we returned to the tents to start a fire and ‘wind down’ for the evening, in preparation for tomorrow's dawn patrol.
It started off well. Mellow music, a few beers, a small fire. Talk of surf we might find, admiration for Stiffler and so on. As the beers flowed the discussion inevitably turned to youthful hooliganism, drugs, punk shows (or Grateful Dead shows if you are Nasty), fighting and whatever other macho nonsense you can think of. I zoned out as Nasty and Smith began some useless argument about grapes, regionalism, wine, bourbon, Italy and Kentucky. However, the talk of Bourbon reminded me that Nasty has some Maker’s Mark tucked away. I told him I was in the mood for less volume and more booze so he kindly pulled out his bottle and we continued. Inevitably, a camera was pulled out. Nasty had Smith and I pulled some idiotic poses. I brushed my teeth with Bourbon and Smith began to ‘disrobe.’ Soon the digital camera 'broke' but that was probably for the best.
I knew things were going to get weird when Smith pulled out his antiquated Russian camera. Smith commenced trying to take several erotic photos of himself, lying in the fire with his board shorts at various positions up and down his legs. He assumed a Mick Jagger/ Keith Richards type swagger with slurred effeminate speech that was largely incomprehensible. The booze continued to flow and I knew the possibility of a dawnie at Bastendorff was drifting far far away, with the camp fire smoke, up towards the ominous moon.
Until that point, I believe we had been somewhat respectful of the family atmosphere of the camp site. I’m not sure where things began to go wrong but it could have been when Nasty began to spordaically disappear only to return with huge log and a big grin each time. The bastard was thieving firewood from all or neighbors all night long. I felt we were beginning to sink pretty low. Before long I was doing Bruce Dickinson impersonations and ‘air fencing’ (Bruce was an Olympic standard fencer, I believe). Hallowed Be Thy Name was my chosen Iron Maiden number until I belted out the climatic,

“... the sands of time for me are running low. Looooowwww, loooooooooooooowwwwwww YEEEEEAAAAAAAAH!”

and awoke up all the people that Nasty had stolen wood from.

So where were we?

Oh yeah, Smith was Naked. Nasty was out thieving and I am apologizing to my fellow campers for my Maiden renditions. Before long we make a vein effort to go to sleep so we coule at least pretend we are going to go surfing the next day. However, there is still about a third of the Maker’s Mark left and someone, I’m not sure who, insisted, we simply cannot bed down for the evening until the filthy bourbon is polished off. I take a meager swig, Nasty one ups me and then Smith guzzles a dangerous amount of the filth. Let me just re-iterate that at this stage Smith had already lost the ability to speak. Quite frankly, I have never heard anything like it. Each sentence was a nonsensical spittled slur, followed by strange dancing. The dancing actually reminded me of how fans of The Smiths wriggle around, while standing on one foot and sporting a daffodil in their hair. Only most of them don’t go crashing into wild campfires.
I soon accepted that bed was a distant destination as was my dream of ending the summer with a healthy surf exploration of a new coastline. I needed this trip. I needed it to ward off the pressures of work, family and all the bullshit of modern city living.
Have you ever smelled burning urine? Neither have I. Apparently, it is beyond putrid, as Nasty and Smith tried to demonstrate to me by unloading bucket loads of piss on the fire. A dense smoke rose above our tents and into the trees as Smith and Nasty laugh manically at the moon. Perhaps I was too inebriated, but I couldn’t smell anything. The bourbon was passed around for the final time. Nasty and I took another conservative swig and then Smith grabbed the bottle uttering something like,


and he necked it. I thought that was the final nail in his coffin but apparently he still had some fight left in him. He then grabbed his skateboard out of the back of the Yukon and headed off into the woods, half naked, snarling and dribbling. Nasty and I looked at each other, sat down and tried to make some sense of it all. Nasty waved a baggy of magic mushrooms under my nose. We deliberated whether we really wanted to cross the line. I remained teetering on the edge, The Cramps meancingly blaring from the car stereo. Was this dawn patrol going to happen?
Remember that scene in Point Break, where Bhodi paddles out at giant Bells Beach? "He’s not coming back." And in a sense Smith, like Bhodi, never did come back. No one can say for sure what happened to our good friend Smith in the woods that night but I can tell you he returned a different man. Perhaps he fought his mid-life crisis in the woods. Perhaps he battled some of his fiercest demons. Who can say? All I know is, he returned with one flip flop, a missing wallet, a missing button from his board shorts and bleeding limbs. He stumbled into his cave and the sleeping beast finally passed out.
Surprisingly, I awoke as planned, early and willing, in theory, to surf. I scrambled around for my festering clothes and crawled out of my tent into a dense fog. I looked around for the remains of the summer but it was nowhere to be seen. I was cold, tired and trying to deny a hang-over. The motivation to surf, the whole point of this God-forsaken journey, was slipping away from me faster than the summer warmth. I stumbled to the nearest toilet, walked in and saw a vast splattering of shit and vomit sprayed throughout it. Good God, I wondered if Smith was still breathing. I wretched and went off in search of a better toilet. As I walked through the camp site, our fellow campers were busy starting their days. Each and every one of them stared at me as I did the walk of shame to the loo. What had they seen? What had they heard? I attempted to offer a few apologetic nods in their direction.
After a horribly unsatisfying poo, I sat on the bench on the cliff top over looking the south end of Bastendorff beach. I tried to make out some swell through the fog, to no avail. I was half relieved. I returned to the camp as Nasty was stirring. ‘Wanna go down and check the surf?’ ‘Aye, I suppose we should.’ Just then, Smith crawled half way out of his tent and coughed up a few pints of vomitus. The future looked bleak. Where was Stiffler now? Just 24 hours ago, we were fit young men in the prime of our lives, fresh, alert, strong, handsome, ready and willing to take the bull by the horns. Now look at us.
Nasty and I left Smith at the camp and drove down to the jetty. We still couldn’t see the waves. The beach was filthy with fireworks, condoms, porn mags amongst littered amongst civilization's debris. It looked like a British beach. Again, I thought back to Stiffler’s Walden. Where do we go from here?

I decided to call Sailing Surfer. “Hey man, this is Pete.”
“Pete, you know from Wales, touring the Oregon coast with Smith and Nasty.”
“Oh oh hi, where are you guys?’ He sounded nervous.
“Bastendorff. Things are bleak. We’re completely socked in, in more ways then one.”
“Oh hey hmmm ahhhh. Let me call a friend down at the Creek and I’ll call you back.”

As it turns out, Sailing Surfer may just have saved the Pikey’s sanity.

Sailing Surfer soon called back, "Hey, the Creek is going off and the fog has completely burned off down the coast. Blue skies and four to five foot perfection, is what my friend reports." I hung up on him without responding.

Nasty and I needed no further prompt to get out arses in gear and head south but first we had to take down the camp, apologize to Bastendorff State Park and throw Smith into the rig. Back at the camp we were greeted with several puddles of puke lying around the perimeter. Now, I have to be fair to Smith. Despite his condition, he never really complained. He talked of 'a new stage of life,' and 'never again,' 'one of my top three hangovers,' 'what the hell happened?' 'the ranger let me go but why?' 'where are my keys? where's my wallet? where is my mind?' and most significantly 'why aren't you fuckers surfing???'
Once we were finally on the road we soon caught up with Nasty's pal Scott who was cycling from Astoria to Brookings. He was with a group of portly middle aged cyclists who were taking smoke breaks every few miles. I instantly hated them and their dedication, perseverance, sense of adventure and their freedom. So happy they looked in their lycra on $2000 bikes. Fuck those guys. Instead of stopping we threw a can of Tecate at them and got the hell out of Coos County.
Have you ever noticed how horny you can get while hung-over? Well, unless you are Smith-style hung-over and then you probably won't have any feeling in your penis for at least a week. Well, Nasty was feeling the urge and re-commenced his quest for an HJ. So we stopped at a little market that apparently had the best hot-dogs in the region. I'll never know as I don't do pork but Nasty was straight in there, grabbing the biggest, meatiest dog he could get his hands on.
While Nasty devoured the long cylindrical piece of meat, I roamed the aisle looking for something remotely healthy. After purchasing a banana and a bottle of water, I walked outside to see Nasty, sitting next to a leather-clad forty something female biker. I knew what he was up to and pretended not to know him as I walked back to the car. Peeling my banana as I passed them I couldn't help but giggle at the thought of Nasty getting 'hand relief' right off 101 from a Harley rider.
Back in the car, Smith stirred and asked me, 'Did you guys take any photos of me?'


'You know, when I was naked and drunk or when I was puking?'

'No man, I wanted to but I thought it would be in bad taste.'

'Dick! I would have and why the fuck aren't you two surfing yet?'

I was about to explain that Nasty was occupied but Smithsoon passed out again. Nasty soon returned, mumbling something about how I'd fucked up his chances of an HJ with my silly giggling.

I responded, 'Fuck it. Its nearly high tide we're going to miss the waves.'

Which we did. The tide was too high and there was nothing but a four foot shore break at Sailing Surfer's recommended spot. We decided to let the tide drop for an hour or two and find a campsite. We found one at Humbug State Park. Checking in, we apologized to the ranger and our fellow campers in advance for our presence. We all pitched our tents and snoozed for an hour before heading back to the beach.

Nasty and I had no more excuses. It was time to surf. Head high rights were reeling off the main peak with only a few surfers on it. We scrambled into our wetties and ran down the trail. Finally, we were stroking through the glassy Pacific to get a piece of what we left home for. At first, Nasty and I were polite and waited on the shoulder but too many waves were passed up or blown and so we eased in for the kill. To be fair, the locals were cool and curious about the waves we usaully surfed up north and they eventually let us find our place in the line-up. We dropped into lushes rights that raced south and I was reminded how easy it is to surf when the waves are good. However, before long a kneeboarder named Dougie paddled out and immediately announced "Alright kookies, daddy is here. Time to go to the beach."
A set wave loomed and I tried to get Nasty's attention to let him know to paddle outside but he was paddling for the kneeboarder in full rage mode. I wanted a set wave. One of those walled up screamers to carry me to redemption. So I let my friend alone to give Dougie an earful and paddled for the horizon. What a beaut of a wave. Luckily I didn't have to hassle anyone for it. I was in prime position. After I made the drop, racing down the line, ahead of me, were Nasty and Dougie yelling at each other. I couldn't make it all out but I heard Nasty yell something like, 'You think I ________ for nothing? You think that ________ just so ________ you cock sucking_________! I'm going to _______ then _________. I'm so overdue a ___________ at this point. ________bend_________you_______." I narrowly avoided them but as I surfed by, I couldn't resist shouting at Nasty to ask Dougie for an HJ…. Nasty was not amused but I think the anger did him some good as later on he caught one of the few good lefts that came through and tore it apart. Things soon mellowed and Dougie turned out to be fairly reasonable. He said he understood what we had been through and we were welcome to half a dozen waves each. Later, we shared some beers with Dougie on the beach, watching a killer sunset. After awhile, I thought I had better check on Smith who was still asleep in the Yukon. As I got to the top of the trail, I turned around to watch the waves. It was too dark to tell if the swell has dropping or not but I did see Nasty and Dougie walking off into the dunes together.

Well, I could re-count the journey home for you. I could tell you about Smith's new spiritual approach to life as a result of his ordeal. I could tell you the secrets he revealed to us about what he saw in the woods that fateful night. I could tell you about feeding Scott the cyclist the mushrooms and watching him disappear, east into the hills on his bike, never to be seen again. I could tell you about Nasty paying me $60 to surf sharktastic Winchester Jetty in my speedos. I could tell you about cryptic messages we received from Stiffler about 'The Gathering' and his, how shall we say? 'altercation' with Twin Fin Annie, an agro Newport local. I could tell you about Nasty's strangely silent but content demeanor all the way home but, I'm over it. Reality sucks, lads. It is sucking me down. I'm at work, staring at the shit and scum in the city, hunched over an ergonomically incorrect PC, attempting to hide these words from my boss. Pikeys don't sit down very well.